For children in Haiti, who often consume a lot of white rice and have a low animal based diet— beans are an important staple food for making sure they get adequate protein, as well as the essential amino acid called lysine. Lysine helps with growth and development, particularly by forming collagen that’s needed for skin, tendons, cartilage, and bones.  Other plant-foods that contain lysine include, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame, seitan, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios.

Beans/legumes are featured in one meal (at least) every day during this challenge—and this isn’t by accident! Beans, chickpeas, and lentils are packed with protein, fiber, iron, folate, thiamin, B6, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.  They are also a key player in healthy eating due to their benefits for preventing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. They may also help with weight-loss. Even just eating ~2 tablespoons of beans per day can lower risk of death by 8%. No wonder beans are a staple food in the diets of some of the longest living people in the Blue Zone’s communities!

Beans and legumes are so wonderful that the Food and Agricultural Organization has recognized 2016 as the “International Year of Pulses!”  Cultural groups from all over the world include beans/ legumes as featured foods in their cuisine. Curries and Pudla (chickpea crepes) in India; beans with matoke and groundnuts in Uganda; falafel and hummus in the Middle East; bean salads in the Mediterranean; the Three Sisters (corn, bean, squash) in Native American cuisine; frijoles de la olla in Mexico; tofu, edamame, and miso in Asian cuisine….. and more!

When it comes to plant-based proteins, beans, chickpeas, and lentils top the charts! Providing anywhere from 12- 19 grams of protein per cup (soybeans providing 29 grams of protein per cup!); this is significantly higher than cooked whole grains, which typically only have 6-8 grams of protein per cup.  For people that don’t consume any meat, fish, or animal products, including beans and lentils with meals is an easy way to meet protein needs for a day. So if you are in need of a little extra protein, don’t shy away from the beans! Add an extra scoop to your salad, toss some in with your grain-based dishes, or even make them into fun dips for your raw veggies!

Beans are not just important for their nutrients, but for the total impact they have in the body. Even though they are higher in carbs than some other plant foods, they actually lower blood glucose levels — even hours after we’ve eaten them! This is why beans/ legumes play an important role in the prevention— and even treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. The fiber found in beans/ legumes is incredibly beneficial for the bacteria in our gut— they act as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria that keep us healthy, every single day!

Not only are beans and legumes super healthy, but they are also cheap and versatile. If you are looking to cut-down on your grocery expenses, consider swapping in a few bean-based dishes rather than meat-based dishes for the week. Instead of meat loaf or meatballs, try a lentil loaf or bean balls. Rather than a chicken sandwich, try a chickpea sandwich. Chili and stew are another place where you may not even notice that the meat is missing.

Learn more about the numerous benefits of adding beans to your diet at Nutritionfacts.org.